Published on May 8, 2008 - 10:42:44 AM
May 6, 2008 - Tuesday's announcement by French-controlled Areva, Inc., that it selected Idaho for its proposed uranium enrichment plant puts Idaho in the unenviable position of contributing to an industry that's both dangerously risky and bad energy policy, the Snake River Alliance said.
"It wouldn't matter if Areva had chosen any of the other four sites it was considering for this plant; we would oppose it no matter where Areva planned to build," Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. "We oppose expanding uranium enrichment wherever it occurs. It is premised on expanding nuclear power, which is an expensive and dirty power source."
The Alliance fought in the recent Legislature against two bills that amounted to multimillion-dollar giveaways aimed at luring Areva to Idaho. Shipley said the Alliance will continue attempts to block construction of the Areva plant by educating Idahoans on the true risks posed by the huge amounts of dangerous radioactive waste that will be generated by an enrichment plant.
"As we all know, nuclear power produces waste every step of the way, from uranium mining and milling to uranium enrichment and power production," Shipley said. "With Areva's announcement, we will engage our members and supporters in what we know will be a long process as Areva begins its uphill fight to secure federal, state, and local permits for this ill-advised industrial plant." Shipley said the Alliance and its statewide membership will closely monitor Areva's required permit applications with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as with Bonneville County and the state Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Water Resources.
"Areva may have convinced Idaho legislators that this plant is harmless and good for the local economy," Shipley said. "We will be working to make sure Idahoans know the real facts â€“ facts that were not allowed to be raised during legislative hearings last winter."
Shipley noted Areva's announcement comes as Idahoans are still up in arms after learning that 6,700 tons of dangerously contaminated sand are due to arrive in Idaho this month after being shipped to the United States from Kuwait. That sand, which is contaminated with depleted uranium from military munitions, was found to also contain dangerous amounts of lead after the shipments left Kuwait.
"If as we hear Idahoans are upset about the contaminated sand shipments from Kuwait, they will be even more alarmed to learn what waste Areva plans to produce from its enrichment plant," Shipley said. "Besides producing nuclear fuel, uranium enrichment produces a very dangerous kind of nuclear waste. All nuclear waste is dangerous, but this is very dangerous."
About 90 percent of what comes out of a uranium enrichment plant is depleted uranium hexafluoride waste, which is both radioactive and chemically toxic. If exposed to moisture â€“ even damp air â€“ the waste releases highly corrosive gas that damages kidneys and lungs and can be fatal. There is currently no place to dispose of this waste in the United States, so for the foreseeable future the waste would remain at the Idaho plant site.
"Areva and other supporters of this plant claim it will be an economic boon to Idaho and that it's needed to meet future domestic energy needs with â€˜clean' nuclear power," Shipley said. "What we should be talking about is how Idaho and its local communities can benefit from clean and sustainable renewable energy development. There is an enormous amount of wind being developed in Idaho that produces no waste and that provides even more jobs than Areva is proposing." Ironically, there is a large wind farm now operating outside Idaho Falls, and another large wind farm was approved in adjacent Bingham County last month.
"This is Idaho's energy future," Shipley said. "Why would any Idahoan want nuclear power when we can more than meet our energy needs by promoting Idaho's abundant renewable resources and implementing more energy efficiency and conservation measures. A uranium enrichment plant will only enable a nuclear power industry that will leave a legacy of toxic and radioactive waste and divert energy investment dollars that should be used for a clean energy future."
The Snake River Alliance has a long history of advocating for the cleanup of the radioactive legacy from the Cold War at the Idaho National Laboratory and protecting the Snake River Aquifer that lies underneath the contamination. It also advocates clean energy alternatives to nuclear and fossil fuel power generation.